After a long night of counting, and an even longer campaign, the Labour party have been declared the winners of the Peterborough by-election. Lisa Forbes, the Labour party candidate, will replace Fiona Onasanya who was ousted from the seat earlier this year after she was convicted of perverting the course of justice. Forbes won 10,483 votes in the election, ahead of the Brexit party on 9,801, and the Conservatives on 7,243. In a speech celebrating her victory, Forbes said that the Brexit party’s rejection at the ballot box showed that the ‘politics of division will not win.’
Tonight will be a disappointing result for the Brexit party candidate, Mike Greene, and the party’s leader, Nigel Farage. In the run up to the election, it seemed as if the Brexit party were favourites to win, as they fought to send their first ever MP to Westminster in an area which voted 61 per cent to Leave in 2016. But even when the bookies stopped taking bets on the Brexit party to win, Greene was keen to point out that his party did not have experience campaigning in the area, and lacked the phone numbers, electoral databases, and historic voter records the other parties possessed.
In the end, this seems to be what clinched the result for Labour. The party has had an incredibly active campaign which began as far back as 2018 (before the Brexit party even existed) when it seemed likely that Fiona Onasanya would be removed as Peterborough’s MP. The Labour party also boasted an impressive get-out-the-vote operation, which targeted their base effectively, and boosted turnout in the area to 48.4 per cent: reasonably high for a by-election.
By contrast, it seems that while the Brexit party managed to generate a huge amount of support for its campaign, with two rallies in the centre of Peterborough, strong social media messaging, and several hundred activists travelling from around the country to canvass in the seat, this was not enough to target the voters they needed to win. To have any chance of success tonight, the Brexit party needed to win over as many Conservative voters as they did in the EU election campaign. Instead, the Tories still managed to take more than 7,000 votes.
The results in Peterborough will be met with a sigh of relief by the two main parties. The Labour leadership has come under increased pressure in recent months to unconditionally back a second referendum, to stop its Remain supporters flocking to the Lib Dems and Greens. Tonight showed that if Labour continues to back Brexit, at least in some capacity, it can still hold on to Leave voting seats such as Peterborough in a general election. The Conservatives meanwhile, were expecting a far worse result tonight, and will be pleased that their vote did not entirely collapse as it did in the European elections last month. They can also now argue at the next election that supporting the Brexit party will only split the Brexiteer vote and lead to Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 – a reasonably convincing line of attack.
The Brexit party will be disappointed that it failed to win a seat tonight, but it’s worth remembering that this was it’s still an impressive result for a party that did not launch until two months ago. And while the Conservatives will be pleased that they weren’t crushed tonight, it’s clear that their Brexit party problem is not going away.